Future of Work: Automation or Augmentation

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The way we work is changing and the future poses many interesting questions for us: What impact will the continuous development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) have on our work? Will there be a need to work in the future? What is the role of humans in an automated world?

New technologies like big data, the blockchain, artificial intelligence, robotics, Internet of Things etc will not only disrupt designing, production, management and maintenance of products and services but will also change the way we work. A few examples are already being witnessed: IBM’s Watson is being deployed in fields such as cancer diagnostics through AI, Rio Tinto in Australia has hundreds of driverless trucks to transport minerals and the H&R Block – one of America’s largest tax service providers is employing supercomputers to complete routine tasks.

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How does this affect India? There are one million young Indians entering the workforce every month. Job creation has not kept pace with job demand, given that unemployment will increase from 16 million in 2017 to 18 million in 2018. According to a World Bank report, 69% of the jobs in India can be replaced by automation. We are already seeing Indian companies like Raymond, Infosys cutting their workforces to accommodate automation. According to a study conducted by Deloitte, a quarter of all the service sector jobs in the world are at risk due to automation.

The next question is whether we should downsize or augment our workforce in the wake of increasing automation. Recent history suggests that technology has created four times the number of jobs than it has taken away. Augmentation need not be in terms of number, but can also be of skill-set and creativity. Some roles will eventually be lost to automation, but there will remain some degree of human involvement. Automation will also lead to the creation of specialist jobs which will be grabbed by organizations augmenting their skills and job roles. Organizations which will reshape their job roles to infuse creativity, human touch and additional value will ultimately take advantage of automation and have a productive, unique and happier workforce. Jobs that involve genuine creativity will not be lost, be it scientists, artists, doctors, musicians, at least for the next 10-20 years. Also, jobs that involve complex human to human interactions such as nurses, relationship banking, government relations will always have a fair degree of human involvement. Lastly, jobs that have unpredictable needs such as fire-fighters, plumbers etc. will always need human workforce. The next decade, therefore, should be focussed on developing and augmenting such type of jobs and re-deployment of the workforce into such jobs.